Forbes.com written by Glenn D. Porter on How to Work a Trade Show. If you know me you know that I think trade shows are usually a monumental waste of money. They are one of the most common marketing investment mistakes that I see software companies continue to make year after year. The justifications usually come in one of three flavors:There was a interesting and useful post a couple of days ago on
“We need to be there because our competitors are.” (That’s great. You and your competitors can keep each other company because your prospects don’t feel a need to be there.)
“We’re building awareness.” (Yeah? How’s that working for you? Is the awareness paying the bills yet?)
“We get lots of leads.” (And, how many of those leads have turned into sales? Most of the time you get lots of names of people who want whatever trinket you’re giving away. They give you their name because they feel guilty for taking it without at least pretending they are interested.)
Of course, there are some times when you just can’t get out of doing a trade show. No matter how bleak the profit analysis looks from trade shows past, everyone finds themselves standing on the show floor twiddling their thumbs once in awhile. Glenn suggests that you use your time at trade shows to accomplish three objectives:
- Expand your industry knowledge
- Do some personal networking
- Schmooze the press
I’d add that you can also use the time to do some prospect research. For example, one of the marketing firms I have worked with, GrowthPoint, uses the time to efficiently organize face to face focus groups. If you think you have the right buyers at the show, you can quickly prequalify them and invite them to a focus group session held during show hours. A small incentive, such as a gift certificate, is usually enough to get them to show up. The size of the incentive typically corresponds to the level of individual you are trying to attract. A $25 – 50 gift certificate to Amazon is often enough for your average professional for a one hour session. You might need to go up to $100 - 200 for C-level executives. I have even heard of incentives between $800 and $1000 to entice doctors to participate.
Make sure these are actually focus groups and not sales pitches. You’ll lose your audience quickly because you will have lost their trust as soon as they realize your real purpose. It helps to have a professional firm conduct the focus groups to make sure that the line is not crossed.
You could also do keyword research to help your ongoing SEO and SEM initiatives. Many companies have drawings at their booth for various giveaways as a way to collect names. The quality of these leads is usually not high. By adding their name to the drawing they are showing that they are interested in what you are giving away, not necessarily your product or service.
However, you can turn these drawing entries into a mini keyword research project. On the slip of paper, ask the attendee to write down up to three keywords they might use to search for your type of product or service. They should not use proper names since the purpose of SEO/SEM is to attract prospects that don’t already know you well.
The entries should give you some interesting insights into how your target market sees your product or service. If the answers don’t correspond at all to your actual offerings, there’s an obvious sign that you aren’t well positioned in the market. If the answers are related to what you offer, it will give you some idea of what terms you should be optimizing for.
So, next time you find yourself facing trade show agony develop a strategy for making the most of your investment – and then figure out how you can get out of it next year.